The best literary referral system in the world is what fellow guests are reading around the swimming pool.
I am now in Jamaica staying at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel about twenty minutes from Montego Bay and I am still searching for a copy of the late Swedish journalist Stieg Larsson's bestselling novel The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (buy it here). I tried the airport at Antigua with no success.
Instead of 'hot type' recommendations, the best literary referral system in the world is what fellow guests are reading around the swimming pool and I couldn't help but notice while at Jumby Bay that whenever I went to the pool for lunch at least three people were reading the distinctive yellow paperback cover of the Larsson crime novel – set in the world of high finance, fraud and investigative journalism – that has recently been turned into a very long film (so long that when I recently bought tickets in Chelsea for an 8.15pm showing, I asked for my money back when I learnt that it ended at about 11.30 pm, long after last orders at my local Indian).
Despite selling over 14 million copies since it was first published in 2008, I could not track down a copy during the extended volcano flying crisis which grounded thousands on Antigua. Within 24 hours of all travel being suspended, all copies of the book were sold out of all bookshops.
For two days, I asked the front desk at Jumby Bay to see if they could track down a copy, but despite repeated calls to all bookshops, pharmacies and the airport, no copy could be found. On arrival at Jamaica, I scoured the airport bookshop with no success and then asked my taxi driver to stop at all bookshops on my three and a half hour drive between Kingston and Montego Bay. The book appears to have sold out across the Caribbean.
How different the world will be shortly when you can simply download any book you want – possibly any book ever printed and turned into a digital format – on your sand-proof or water-proof iPad or Kindle device, or whatever else they come up with for us to read books digitally, just like downloading music on your iPod from iTunes.
What a wonderful time to be a writer as those that own and create the best content – whether it is magazines, novels, cookery books, wine newsletter publishers, video games or films – will suddenly have the opportunity to become mega-wealthy from royalties in a way that no writer – certainly not Greene, whose The Power and The Glory only sold 2000 copies when it first was published in the States – could ever dream of from a previous generation.
Had I had an iPad with me (I don't own one – yet), I could have downloaded The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo while ordering my club sandwich at the pool grill at Jumby and would have added another $20 or so to the late author's multi-million pound literary estate.
The only problem is that when people are reading on their iPad's you won't be able to see the covers of the books so a highly effective marketing tool for the publishing business – the pool side or beach chair advert – will be lost, thus people will no longer be able to judge what to read by the number of covers they spot, or like the look of, while walking through a plane or tube or lie around a hotel pool or beach club.
I wonder how long it will be before publishers realize that this is how so many people chose which books to buy and then will be forced to come up with a transparent iPad device which allows the cover of the book being read to digitally appear?